Pepsi Reels from Reports of Product Tampering Soft-Drink Giant Says Incidents Are Most Likely Cases of `Copycat Hoax'

Article excerpt

FOOD tampering or hoax?

That is the question facing officials of Pepsico Inc., Pepsi Cola's parent company, following numerous complaints across the country that syringes, needles, and other objects have been found in its canned soda products.

A number of cases have been confirmed as hoaxes. Pepsico officials say eventually all of the tampering cases will presumably turn out to be hoaxes by people trying to cash in on the company's misfortune. Alleged findings of needles in Pepsi cans have been reported from at least 24 states in all regions of the United States.

The reports of tampering - or copycat hoaxes - come at a bad time for Pepsico, and soft-drink makers in general, since Americans buy the product in large quantities during the summer months.

Pepsiso officials, inundated with calls at their Purchase, N.Y., headquarters, say they are taking the allegations seriously and are determined to do whatever is necessary to protect consumers. But they have declined to recall any Pepsi products, since, at press time, no case of a syringe in an unopened can has been found, says Brad Shaw, a company spokesman.

Past cases of actual or alleged food tampering have cost American industry hundreds of millions of dollars from lost sales and the expense of having to devise new tamper-proof containers. Corporate reputations have also suffered. In 1982, seven people died in the Chicago area after swallowing Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. Last week in the Seattle area, a man was convicted of attempting to murder his wife by lacing a cold capsule with poison. The first two reports of Pepsi tamperings also came from around Seattle last week.

Most reports involving food tampering are unsubstantiated, says Betsy Adams, a spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington. In 1984, for example, the FDA examined nearly 500 reports of food tampering involving Girl Scout cookies; no proof was ever found.

"Everything about this {series of incidents} is very strange," Ms. Adams says. No food container is completely tamper-proof, she admits, but a "can is about as close as you can come. …


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